THE number 17 is special to Pahangirsts Zainal Abidin Hassan (above) and
Singapore's Fandi Ahmad. And it's coincidental that the Malaysia Cup final
will be played on Dec 17 at Shah Alam Stadium.
Immediately after Pahang qualified for the final in Alor Star on
Saturday, Zainal said he is looking forward to meeting his old mate in the
"And I think it means a great deal to both of us as the final is on Dec
17," said Zainal.
"The number has been pivotal in our careers. For me, I'll be wearing it
for my eighth Malaysia Cup final."
Zainal, 32, picked the 17 jersey because he made his debut with Selangor
at the age of 17 in 1980.
"It must be the same for Fandi," said Zainal, who in 1992 played
together with Fandi for Pahang in their Malaysia Cup victory over Kedah.
Fandi began wearing the 17 jersey in 1982 while playing for Niac Mitra
after a suggestion from a fan. Before that, he was using the No 14 jersey.
Indeed, attention will be on the duo who are their respective country's
top player since the 80s.
Fandi, without doubt, is Singapore's most talented and decorated player.
He not only made his mark with Singapore but also with Kuala Lumpur,
Pahang and in Europe.
Both are now in their twilight of their careers, thus another appearance
in the Malaysia Cup final is quite a remarkable feat.
Zainal appeared in four finals with Selangor (1980, 1981, 1982 and 1986)
and three with Pahang (1983, 1984 and 1992). He has five winner's medal -
three with Selangor in 1981, 1982, and 1986, and two with Pahang in 1983
Fandi appeared in his first final as 16-year-old in 1979 for Singapore
and has since played in six finals. He has five winner's medals.
Like Zainal, Fandi has winner's medals from different teams. He has a
winner's medal with Singapore (1980), three with Kuala Lumpur (1987, 1988
and 1989) and one with Pahang (1992).
The battle between Zainal and Fandi will not be a battle of who is the
better striker but how Zainal is going to stop Fandi from scoring.
In a twist of fate, Zainal will be filling the sweeper's role in the
absence of the suspended Alan Davidson.
Pahang coach Tajuddin Nor said Zainal had played this role once this
season - against Sarawak in their Malaysia Cup group tie.
On Saturday, Zainal assumed the role immediately after Davidson was sent
off in the 80th minute.
"I could also use Ahmad Yusof as sweeper but I think Iirstll go for Zainal
against a team like Singapore," said Tajuddin.
"Whatever, I am glad I am still playing at this age," added Zainal, who
is five months younger to Fandi (Fandi was born on May 29, 1962 while
Zainal was born on Nov 8, 1962).